It’s been more than three decades since hard disk recording first hit the studio scene, yet despite the technology providing pristine audio fidelity in an infinitely malleable form, there are still those who insist upon (or dream about) recording to good-old-fashioned magnetic tape.
Why, though? What makes this cumbersome, expensive and fragile medium so appealing? The answer depends upon who you ask. Some traditional studio engineers love the sound of a well-maintained, high-end multitrack machine. Contrary to popular belief, these machines were anything but colourful. They were, in fact, rather accurate, and any character they imparted was subtle. Any overt flavour was generally the result of intentional misuse on the part of the operator – for example, the tape would saturate at hot input levels, producing a mildly distorted compression effect that’s quite pleasing to the ear.
Conversely, the sort of machines upon which the home recordist might once have depended were anything but accurate. Narrow track widths and slower tape speeds resulted in lower dynamic range and poorer frequency response. This was especially true when it came to the 4-track cassette recorder.
Needless to say, such dubious qualities are once again in demand in this nostalgic era we live in, and developers now offer new options for recreating the sounds of various tape machines inside your DAW.
Yet one needs to be sure of what’s needed before loading up any old tape sim effect. You can’t simply slam a signal through a battered old cassette machine and expect it to impart the magic mojo of a Studer A80 for you.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the software emulations on offer, and what they can do for your in-the-box signals.
Once a budget option for would-be recordists, the lowly Portastudio has been re-embraced for its lo-fi tone